The Prime Minister has received criticism from his party for suggesting that MPs vote with their heart in the upcoming EU referendum and not campaign to leave the EU “because of what your constituency association might say.” But was this criticism justified?
At face value it appears as though he is asking them not to fulfil one of their main roles – representation. While it is true that in normal circumstances it is the job of MPs to represent their constituents’ views on legislative issues, an exception applies here. Because it is a referendum, and so each member of the electorate is able to vote, they do not need to be represented by their MP. Therefore MPs (backbenchers, at least) are under no pressure to campaign or vote for the side generally supported by their constituents.
However by the same token, MPs have the right to base their decision on any factor they like. As with most voters, their vote will be largely sentimental and based upon the effect the referendum will have on their own lives and job. It is the imminent review of constituency boundaries which has prompted the Prime Minister to make these comments as the number of constituency boundaries will be reduced by 50, meaning that many MPs will face reselection. If they campaign to stay in the EU then this will antagonise many grassroots party members, threatening their livelihoods.
Therefore, while it was not unreasonable for the Prime Minister to urge MPs to “do what’s in your heart”, it may well be that, for many, getting reselected is in their hearts.